Skip to Content

7 Secrets of Fossil Butte National Monument

If you’re unfamiliar with Fossil Butte National Monument, get ready to start planning your next road trip.

This prehistoric park allows visitors to step back in time. The massive collection of perfectly preserved fossilized remains is enough to excite any nature lover. 

But this area offers so much more than a simple fossil collection. And we have all the secrets just for you.

Let’s dig in!

What’s So Special About Fossil Butte?

Fossilized remnants from an ancient freshwater lake tell the story of the Eocene period in North America. 

In this Wyoming hotspot, geological forces have pushed ancient rock out of the ground, exposing a quarry of fossilized remains. Ancient fishes, insects, reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants are all frozen in time.

This area is home to dozens of holotypes. In other words, many previously unknown, extinct species have been discovered here based on their fossilized remains. 

The Fossil Butte National Monument is located in southwest Wyoming, just outside the small town of Kemmerer. 

7 Secrets of Fossil Butte National Monument

Fossil Butte National Monument is home to a fantastic fossil collection. But it has so much more to offer! 

Read on to learn a few of the best-kept secrets of Fossil Butte. 

#1 Fossil Butte Is a 50 Million-Year-Old Former Lake 

Visitors may be surprised to learn that the high sagebrush desert of Wyoming was once a thriving lake brimming with biodiversity. 

About 50 million years ago, the earliest mammals and birds took refuge around these lake basins. At that time, the area was warm and humid, perfect for early species to thrive in the wake of the dinosaurs. 

The water had low oxygen levels, so an animal would sink to the bottom when it died in the lake. Layers of sediment would cover the remains, protecting it from scavengers and allowing it to fossilize. 

Fossil Lake, as it’s now known, is part of the Green River Formation. Thin layers of sedimentary deposits provide geologists with annual records going back millions of years. 

#2 It’s America’s Aquarium in Stone

 The visitors center at Fossil Butte contains hundreds of fossilized remains. The lake’s conditions millions of years ago resulted in the preservation of innumerable fish species.

The lake was once home to at least 27 different species of fish– at least, that’s what has been found so far. Stingrays, paddlefish, gars, and more are on display. The turtle wall has six different species of turtles.

There is a virtual aquarium where you can see what these fossils would have looked like in the flesh. A rubbing table and a fossil preparation lab allow you to get your hands dirty.

#3 There Are Fun Hiking Trails at Fossil Butte

Four miles of maintained hiking trails at the monument are split into two routes. 

The first is the Historic Quarry Trail. This 2.5-mile loop takes two to three hours to complete and offers geological and paleontological facts about the area. 

The second maintained trail is the Nature Trail, also called the Chicken Creek Loop Trail. This trail is 1.5 miles and takes about 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to complete. You can learn about the park’s ecology and how geological forces led to the plant life there today.

There are also several unmaintained trails. These are only open in the summer months. It’s important to note that the unmaintained trails are not open to pets; however, you can take your leashed dogs on the maintained trails. 

#4 RV Homeschoolers Will Find Intriguing Educational Resources 

Fossil Butte offers outstanding educational opportunities for students looking to dig into the past. The park provides lesson plans and student activities for kindergarteners through high schoolers. 

Elementary students may play games that teach how fossils form, while high school students can investigate climate change using fossilized leaves. 

These experiences are a must if you’re RVing and homeschooling. But the park also offers distance learning opportunities, so you can take advantage of these excellent resources even if you’re not on the road. 

#5 Kemmerer, Wyoming, Provides Camping Near Fossil Butte 

The monument doesn’t provide campsites, but some great options are a short drive away!

The Fossil Butte National Monument Boondocking Areas in Kemmerer are highly rated for truck campers and vans. Steep grades, one-lane roads, and tight switchbacks make this site inaccessible to RVs.

If you’re RVing, the BLM land at Lake Viva Naughton Dempsey Point offers lake views and clean bathrooms. 

The area has many options, depending on what you’re looking for. Be sure to check out the BLM and National Park Service websites to see all your options. 

#6 Fossil Butte Is Within Driving Distance to So Much More

Another great thing about Fossil Butte National Monument is its proximity to many other American treasures. 

Two of the most famous national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone, are within a four-hour drive. These parks have stunning scenery and wildlife as well as countless recreational options. 

To dig deeper into the area’s paleontological history, you can get to Dinosaur National Monument in under four hours. And if you want to explore deep underground, you can get to the Timpanogos Cave National Monument in less than three hours. 

#7 You Can Fish the Layers of Time (Collect Your Own Fossils)

Fossil Butte National Monument and the towns of Kemmerer and Diamondville are all located in the Fossil Basin of Wyoming.

While collecting fossils from the National Monument is illegal, there are plenty of places nearby where you can dig for your own piece of the past. 

Several privately owned quarries allow visitors to dig by the hour. Some of these places offer guided digs, so you can have the help of an expert’s keen eye.

Is Fossil Butte Worth the Trip?

Fossil Butte National Monument gives visitors a chance to step into the past. Perfectly preserved specimens from millions of years ago show how much things have changed yet are surprisingly similar.

If exploring ancient remains piques your interest, just wait until you dig your very own prehistoric fossil out of the ground!

In our opinion, Fossil Butte should not be missed.

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: